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New claim in diocese of Egypt dispute

24 July 2020

Anglican Communion Office backs autonomy of incipient Province

PA

An aerial view of market crowds in Cairo, Egypt, last week

An aerial view of market crowds in Cairo, Egypt, last week

THE Anglican Communion Office (ACO) has rejected an assertion by a Protestant group in Egypt that a court judgment in Cairo last week gives the latter complete authority over the Province of Alexandria, a new Province that contains the diocese of Egypt (News, 3 July).

The Protestant Churches of Egypt (PCE), a body representing Presbyterian and other Protestant denominations (also known as the Evangelical Church Association), said that the court’s decision confirmed that the diocese of Egypt could not operate independently of the PCE. It went on to say that the judgment represented “a comprehensive end to this dispute and the final closing of the file”.

This is the latest development in a lingering dispute with the Presbyterian Church over the status of the Episcopal Church. In 2016, a court case found in favour of the PCE (News, 11 November 2016). The ruling effectively subsumed the diocese of Egypt with North Africa & the Horn of Africa into the Protestant body. The diocese is continuing to appeal against the 2016 ruling, and says that last week’s judgment is unrelated to it; so the file is not, as the PCE asserts, closed. The next hearing in the case is due to take place next month.

The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, challenged the basis of the PCE’s assertion. He said that “the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria is an Anglican Church and an integral part of the Anglican Communion” and always had been. Furthermore, “it can’t be under any other denomination.”

Dr Idowu-Fearon said that the Anglican presence dated back to 1819. Last month, the ACO confirmed that the diocese of Egypt with North Africa & the Horn of Africa had left the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East to become its own self-governing Province of Alexandria. The Province has four dioceses: Egypt, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Gambella.

The Archbishop of Alexandria and Bishop of Egypt, Dr Mouneer Anis, said on Tuesday that the PCE was incorrect in saying that it had won a decisive legal victory against his Church. Last week’s court ruling had arisen out of a case “raised by an individual member of the Anglican Church in his personal capacity. He was objecting to the idea of being forced to become a Presbyterian, the denomination that dominates the PCE.”

Other PCE-related cases brought by the Episcopal Church against the Ministry of the Interior are still going through the courts.

“The PCE want us to come under their umbrella,” Dr Anis said. “They say they should be, according to the law, spiritually, financially, and administratively supervising us. Spiritually, that’s very difficult, because we cannot pull out of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is our spiritual leader.”

In addition, the Protestant body insists that “any appointment, any constitutional matter should be approved by the head of the PCE, which is unacceptable”.

Despite the pressure, Dr Anis is confident about the future of the Episcopal/Anglican Church in Egypt: “By God’s grace, that has supported us for 200 years, we will continue. I am optimistic because President Sisi is an advocate of religious freedom.”

The Archbishop said that he still maintains direct and independent links with the presidency and government, despite pressure from the PCE to channel such communications through it. Asked what the Christians around the world could do to support the Anglican Church in Egypt, he replied: “Pray for us.”

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